Trust The Children

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Building Fires In The Rain

My father was a great scouter. What he appreciated about scouting was that the structure of scouting provided the framework for building character and integrity into boys. Nowhere is this more true than on a rainy campout. And rainy campouts were plentiful and often, camping in the Northwest. When my father passed away, the funeral was attended by many of the scouts and adult leaders that my Dad served with in Troop 7. One of the adult leaders walked up to me and said, "The one thing I remember about your Dad, was that when we had a rainy campout, your dad was so good at building fires, I think he could build one, even underwater."

I learned well the lessons of firebuilding from watching my Dad on these campouts. Only now, in my advancing years, have I come to understand how this example can be applied to learning, applied to how parents treat their children in the home schooling setting. Let me explain.

The first key to building a fire in the rain, is to gather a LOT of wood. Wood is your resource and you can't have too much. And you need different kinds of wood. First tinder. These are like small shavings of wood, formed by using a whittling knife. Normal fire building would require a double handful, but in rainy fire building, you need twice that amount. Then you need lots of small kindling. A pile of kindling about 1/8" to 1/4" in diameter. Yet another pile of wood about 1/4" to 1/2" in diameter. Larger wood, in the rain, would be no larger than about 1 1/2" in diameter. In home schooling, you need to first gather your resources, books, articles, people, field trip ideas, whatever it takes to explore a topic. Reaching out and asking others for ideas is like gather double handfuls. You many not use it all, but you might need all of them to be successful.

The next key to building a fire in the rain, is to prepare the area where you are going to build the fire. First, the ground must be a bit rounded up, so that water can't pool where you are building a fire. Next, because it is raining, you need to cover the area to keep the rain from putting the small fire out. We did this by taking larger wood and laying it on the grate above the fireplace where we camped, or built some kind of TeePee out of this larger wood, so that it proteced the firebuilding process from the rain. In home schooling, creating or finding the right environment where learning can occur is key. Professional teachers call it the "Readiness Step". Find some kind of activity that gets their attention and helps them focus their attention. Sometimes it is gathering other friends who have the same interest, sometimes it is asking friends who don't have common interests to leave for a while. Sometimes it is managing noise, or the actual place where you are going to experience learning.

When lighting the fire, light the tinder first and get it burning high and bright. Then add the 1/8" kindling in a teepee fashion leaning against the piles of tinder. You need a lot of small kindling so that you get a hot burning fire in the rain. So don't skimp here. Keep the fire burning hotter and hotter before adding larger and larger wood. Patience here is the chief character trait of the master fire builder. Patience in keeping small wood coming for a long long time before adding larger wood. Hence, lots of small kindling prepared and ready before you light the fire. In homeschooling, begin with small goals and activities that are easily finished and lavishly rewarded. Persist in this for a long period of time, building both confidence and enthusiasm in the learning process. As in firebuilding, if you get too involved in the process you get burned. In homeschooling you have to strike a balance between your involvment in the learning and standing away so you can watch what is going on and decide what kind of wood to pile on next. Err on the side of smaller wood, or smaller short activities and gradually build on those.

There was one last key to my Dad's mastery of fire building. It was the famous Troop 7 Fantastic Fire Fanner. Dad owned a business that manufactured fiberglass reinforced panel. The kind that you often see over patios or in the roofs or walls of buildings. He cut a piece of plastic that was 1 foot by 1 foot that was corrigated. They were stiff when you fanned holding them in one direction, but if you held them in the other direction, they were way flexible. So you could fan HARD when you needed and fan softly when you needed that. In homeschooling, the "firefanner" is rewards and praise. Finding lots of ways to reward them with privileges and extra activities, when they get things done. Food, candy, activities, field trips, time on the computer playing games, or allowance matching. None of these are rights, but privileges you can grant when objectives are met. I can't count the number of times Cyndy has said, "Hurry and get your homeschooling done and then we can..." or "Get your writing done and you CAN go snow boarding" or "I'm sorry. You have lost your privileges to play on the computer until you catch up your math."

The funny thing about building a bright fire in the rain was how the boys in the patrol gathered around the light and the warmth. Such fires bonded us together. Our patrol was the Bat Patrol. To this day, many of us still stay in contact. I think we all smile when we remember all that we "suffered" together as we built fires in the rain. Part of the lasting bonding was because of fires that burned in the rain. We have seen homeschooling as an important element of bringing our children together. They are each other's best friends, without question. Cyndy has, over the years, built many fires in the rain, using piles of tinder, small kindling and the wise use of the Weiss Family Fire Fanner. And so can you.


  • Great post. I love the imagery. The picture looks broken, what is supposed to be there?

    By Blogger David Weiss, at 11:57 AM, December 08, 2005  

  • Wonderful imagery. I see myself building the fire of my sons' education while the storm is raining on my back. It's the fact that I'm taking all the brunt of the storm for them that is hard. Homeschooling is such an odd choice, even for today's "involved" parents that there is much rain to weather as a parent. Nevertheless, I am greatful for the chance to step back and carefully layer tinder on their weak spots and pile on the logs where they're strong. Keep posting. Your sagacity is uplifting to us floundering around here in the muck of homeschooling.

    By Blogger funnymommy, at 1:21 PM, December 09, 2005  

  • Back at ya! I love your imagery of building the fire of your children's eduction while the storm is raining on my back. That is how it is. Thank you for your thoughts.

    By Blogger Mark and Cyndy Weiss, at 9:40 AM, December 18, 2005  

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